Whilst the arguments regarding the “best league in the world” title will continue indefinitely, there’s no doubt that the Premier League is the richest, and most commercialised, league in the world. The latest round of television rights went for an enormous £3bn, whilst England’s biggest team (by turnover) Manchester United had annual revenues of £331.4m last year
The reason for United’s position as second-favourites is that they are no longer the biggest spenders on wages in the league, now lying third behind Chelsea and City. Wages are the reason that most clubs operate at a loss, and when you read the list of clubs who spend more than £100m a year on wages, it’s clear that spending such significant sums on players is the key to mounting a serious title challenge.
So is it even possible to run a successful without huge amounts of money? A look at Merseyside offers an answer, but not with big-spending Liverpool. Everton are perhaps the most consistently successful club run on a tight budget, and every year the team appears to be more than the sum of its parts, in stark contrast to their nearest rivals. Crucially, Everton have had stable ownership and management for over a decade, and are reaping the rewards of that consistency. Liverpool, meanwhile, have had four managers in four years, and are slipping ever further behind their rivals.
So, with consistency an important factor, what else do you need to run a club without a lot of money? As Newcastle United have proved since their promotion, you need a great scouting network. Toon legend Kevin Keegan hailed the signing of Newcastle’s chief scout, Graham Carr to a long-term contract as their best bit of business over the transfer window. Carr is responsible for the likes of Yohann Cabaye and Papiss Cisse and a host of other cheap players who have proved to be such excellent value in the Premier League. Critically, Newcastle have a strong backbone of home grown talent, so they don’t need to spend lots of money on overpriced British talent to meet the minimum squad quota of eight British-raised players, something that has hampered the likes of Liverpool in recent years.
Perhaps the best example of a club run on a budget is Arsenal, who don’t benefit from the huge cash injections that have seen clubs like City and Chelsea move ahead in recent years. They have a great manager who has been at the club for years, a strong scouting network, and a big new stadium. For all their financial solidity, though, they also haven’t won a trophy in six years and the natives are restless.
All of which goes to show that perhaps the biggest challenge to running a club on a tight budget is the expectations of the fans, clubs like Swansea, Norwich, Newcastle, Everton and many others have shown that it is possible to survive and thrive in the top flight without a lot of money. However, if a club is expecting to win the league, then cash is all important, and the fans expect their club to show the all important ‘ambition’ (ie, spend a lot of money) in the pursuit of glory.